1967 October 20

1,000 Draft Cards Turned in to Justice Department in Vietnam War Protest

 

Anti-Vietnam War activists on this day sent 1,000 draft cards to the Justice Department to protest the war. The act technically exposed these people to criminal prosecution because the law required registrants to have their draft card in their possession. The Justice Department initially refused to accept the cards, and so the anti-war activists left the cards on a table. The department later sent the cards to each protester’s local draft board.

Some anti-war activists burned their draft cards as a protest against the war, and Congress responded, on August 30, 1965, by passing a law making it a crime to burn one’s draft card. To the surprise of many observers, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in United States v. O’Brien, on May 27, 1968, rejecting the argument that such an act was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment. The decision seemed out of step with the generally pro-free speech posture of the Warren Court.

In addition to the draft card burning issue, the Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Learn about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Michael Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (2003)

Learn more about the Vietnam War: John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War (1995)

Learn more: Terry H. Anderson, The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee (1995)

Watch a video of anti-Vietnam War protests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e79-2g6jcwY

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